The three “essential” allies of the respiratory tract
Dott. Riccardo Matera
What are the essential oils that help us in our airways?
Under the item “essential” our vocabulary proposes the meaning of “indispensable” and “important” but also the reference to the essence, that is to that volatile substance, generally an oil deriving from the steam distillation of plant matrices.
Essences are odorous substances, liquid at room temperature, lighter than water and non-water-soluble: these are blends of terpenes traditionally used in pharmacies, cosmetics, herbal medicine and perfumery, but also in the manufacture of liqueurs and soft drinks.
Today we will talk about three essential oils that are essential for our airways when low temperatures, humidity and bad weather contribute to the typical seasonal ailments and cold and flu symptoms.
Surely the essential oils that warm us and that act by taking care of our respiratory tract are the first natural allies for our body.
Eucalyptus essential oil (OE) is distilled from the leaves of approximately 500 species of Eucalyptus and contains several terpene compounds, in addition to the main component 1,8-cineole.
The oil is used in medicine, cosmetics and perfumery and usually that prepared from E. globulus, E. polybractea or E. smithii which contains no less than 70% of 1,8-cineole is used for medicinal purposes and is included in some modern Pharmacopoeias.
The decongestant, expectorant and mucolytic properties of Eucalyptus essential oil and its property in stimulating the bronchial epithelium used in the formulas to relieve cough are widely recognized.
The beneficial properties of Eucalyptus oil are mostly ascribed to its majority component, precisely the 1,8-cineole which we can define as the standard bearer of winter.
It is a monoterpenoid also known as eucalyptol or cajeputol, and is also a main constituent of Psidium oil (40-60%), in addition to Eucalyptus (75%) and Rosemary (40%).[i]
Although the antiseptic properties of 1,8-cineole (tested individually) are moderate, the synergy of essential oils of Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Sage show antimicrobial activity against various bacterial strains (E. coli, Salmonella typhi, S. enteritidis and Shigella sonei ).
Moderate antifungal activity has also been shown, especially for Rosemary essential oil.
Even the antioxidant tests carried out on these oils have shown very strong protective activities, both as a scavenger of free radicals and as inhibitors of lipid peroxidation.
The anti-inflammatory properties of 1,8-cineole on the production of inflammatory mediators were studied in vitro and compared with corticosteroid drugs with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects.
It is indicated in colds and respiratory tract problems, brings well-being to the respiratory tract and the whole organism, improves breathing by dilating the bronchi, calms cough and thins mucus making sputum easier, refreshes and contributes to virus control and bacteria.
What products contain Eucalyptus essential oil?
Certainly Sinergia S.A. of BeC, a balsamic blend of natural essential oils with expectorant, antimicrobial and decongestant action for the patency and defense of the respiratory tract.
For use in aerosol equipment, Sinergia S.A. it is very rich in balsamic and refreshing essential oils such as Mint essential oil whose very important properties we described in a previous article.
Even the precious FreeGola blend, rich in Mint and Eucalyptus essential oils, represents a perfect harmony of essential oils for hygiene and freshness of the mouth. It helps to maintain proper mouth hygiene and soothes irritations. It perfumes and refreshes the breath for hours, favoring breathing.
It is possible to nebulize the product in the oral cavity with a single spray, obtaining a pleasant sensation of lasting freshness.
Among the supplements that contain Eucalyptus essential oil, the most suitable in the winter period is definitely LeniFlu: a supplement with plant extracts, essential oils and micronutrients formulated to help the body in its natural defense against the aggression of viruses and bacteria responsible for diseases such as influenza or respiratory disorders.
The essential oils of Eucalyptus, rich in 1,8-cineole and Sage contribute to the antitussive and balsamic action, which alleviate the conditions affecting the respiratory system in synergy with Ivy extracts whose saponins have demonstrated antispasmodic and antitussive action.
Rosemary essential oil widely used for cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical purposes. Besides its 1,8-cineole content (47%) it contains camphor (20%) and pinenes as main constituents, followed by other terpenoids such as camphene, borneol, bornyl acetate, myrcene, limonene, α-terpineol and caryophyllene.
It is used for its stimulating activity on blood circulation, probably for its camphor content. Rosemary oil shows good bactericidal activity against fungi and bacteria and antioxidant activity. [i]
What products contain Rosemary essential oil?
The antimicrobial effect of Rosemary and Sage essential oils against the most common skin bacteria [i] coupled with the effects of Juniper oil, help to alleviate dermatological dysfunctions such as acne and seborrheic eczema associated with sebaceous hyper-secretion. It is particularly used in the C.R.B. Balm Cream, a protective and soothing cream with 14 essential oils, vitamins A and E with refined emollient and moisturizing ingredients such as wheat proteins and Avocado oil.
Particularly indicated in the cold period, as demonstrated by the following efficacy tests: the C.R.B. it shows both a protective effect, when applied before a standard irritant, and a soothing effect, that is after having suffered the insult, as external agents (humidity, wind and cold) can be much more marked in the winter period, protecting the skin from external aggressions and free radicals.
Rosemary essential oil is present in the LeniMal® supplement in association with other phyto-components with a protective action against free radicals (for example, essential oils of savory and juniper) involved in inflammatory conditions typical of the winter season. It helps relieve joint pain, associated with inflammatory states and localized tensions very often exacerbated by cold and humidity.
Wintergreen essential oil is a not very well known oil but it represents an excellent ally of the cold season. Its name already refers to the green of winter, since it represents one of the few green spots that can be seen in the woods during the winter season.
It is obtained from the Gaultheria procumbens shrub, a plant native to North America.
It has analgesic, antirheumatic and antispasmodic properties [i], it is an excellent pain reliever, widely used in case of muscle and joint pain caused by flu and in case of bruises.
If used in massage oils it dissolves muscle tension and relieves rheumatic pains which, in winter, are accentuated by the cold and increased humidity.
Contains methyl salicylate, a substance with a strong anti-inflammatory power and has a thermogenic action, so it increases body heat, a very useful property especially in the cold season.
Which products contain Wintergreen essential oil?
Among the most suitable products, the precious Balsamo BeC, a balsamic cream rich in essential oils, must certainly be mentioned. In fact, it finds an effective application in relieving the symptoms of nasal congestion if gently massaged on the chest.
It is also indicated to alleviate muscle stiffness and fatigue resulting from prolonged sports activity and to relieve localized painful states of an inflammatory or traumatic nature, thanks to the synergistic effect of over 20 essential oils (Wintergreen, Rosemary, Thyme, Eucalyptus) rich in important anti-inflammatory phyto-components and soothing.
[i] Santos FA, Rao VS. Antiinflammatory and antinociceptive effects of 1,8-cineole a terpenoid oxide present in many plant essential oils. Phytother Res. 2000 Jun;14(4):240-4. doi: 10.1002/1099-1573(200006)14:4<240::aid-ptr573>3.0.co;2-x. PMID: 10861965.
[i] Beretta G, Artali R, Facino RM, Gelmini F. An analytical and theoretical approach for the profiling of the antioxidant activity of essential oils: the case of Rosmarinus officinalis L. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2011 Jul 15;55(5):1255-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2011.03.026. Epub 2011 Mar 25. PMID: 21511423.
[i] Weckesser S, Engel K, Simon-Haarhaus B, Wittmer A, Pelz K, Schempp CM. Screening of plant extracts for antimicrobial activity against bacteria and yeasts with dermatological relevance. Phytomedicine. 2007 Aug;14(7-8):508-16. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2006.12.013. Epub 2007 Feb 8. PMID: 17291738.
[i] Liu WR, Qiao WL, Liu ZZ, Wang XH, Jiang R, Li SY, Shi RB, She GM. Gaultheria: Phytochemical and pharmacological characteristics. Molecules. 2013 Sep 30;18(10):12071-108. doi: 10.3390/molecules181012071. PMID: 24084015; PMCID: PMC6270042.
Cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase and the inflammatory process
Cyclooxygenase and lipooxygenase are the two families of enzymes that are commonly involved in the inflammatory process, through a complex of reactions which is called arachidonic acid cascade. This complex of reactions develops as follows: a first enzyme, a phospholipase cleaves the phospholipids of biological membranes, releasing arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid with 20 carbon atoms (eicosa-5Z,8Z,11Z,14Z-tetraenoic acid ; C20:4; ω-6). The arachidonic acid is then transformed by two parallel enzymatic pathways, that is, by two families of enzymes: the cyclooxygenase which transforms it into prostaglandins and thromboxanes and the lipooxygenase which transforms it into hydroperoxides which in turn transform into leukotrienes .
There are two cyclooxygenase isoforms indicated with type 1 and type 2, briefly COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 is the enzyme present in most cells (except red blood cells), and is constitutive, that is, it is always present. COX-2 is an inducible cyclooxygenase isoform: it is constitutively present in some organs such as brain, liver, kidney, stomach, heart and vascular system, while it can be induced (i.e. developed if necessary) following inflammatory stimuli on the skin, white blood cells and muscles.
There are various types of lipooxygenase that lead to different products, the most important in the inflammatory process is 5-lipooxygenase, 5-LOX.
Prostaglandins, Thromboxanes, and Leukotrienes
Prostaglandins, Thromboxanes, and Leukotrienes are chemical messengers or mediators, that is, molecules that bring a message to specific cells and activate or deactivate metabolic responses in these cells. They, therefore, have a function similar to hormones, only that, unlike what hormones do, the chemical message is carried only at a short distance, that is, only to the cells that are in the vicinity of the place where the mediators were produced. There are different prostaglandins, different thromboxanes and different leukotrienes that carry specific messages. In many cases these act as mediators of the inflammatory process , therefore they trigger all the events that are involved in inflammation:
– vasodilation with consequent blood supply (redness),
– increased capillary permeability with consequent fluid exudation (swelling or edema),
– stimulation of nociceptive nerve signals (pain),
– on-site recall of immune system cells that attack a possible invader (chemotactic action)
– activation of the biosynthesis of fibrous tissue to strengthen or repair the affected part (even if there is no need)
– generations of free radicals that can chemically destroy an invader (but also damage our tissues, i.e. they just “shoot in the middle”).
Prostaglandins and thromboxanes, however, also play important physiological roles in normal conditions, i.e. in the absence of inflammation. For example, they regulate the secretion of mucus that protects the walls of the stomach, they regulate the biosynthesis of cartilages and synovial fluid in the joints, they regulate vasodilation, hence the correct flow of blood in the various local districts, and more.
Triglycerides are the main components of most oils and fats. These are heavy, non-volatile and little polar molecules, insoluble in water, made up of glycerol (or glycerin) esterified with three molecules of fatty acids: therefore, it is a tri-ester of glycerin, from which the name derives. Each fatty acid contains 8 to 22 carbon atoms (commonly 16 to 18) and can be saturated, mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated. The size of the fatty acids and their saturation determines the physical and sensorial properties of the triglycerides, which can appear as oils (liquids at room temperature) or fats (solid or semi-solid) and can have greater or less greasiness and smoothness on the skin. Unsaturated triglycerides or with shorter fatty acids are more fluid and have greater flowability.
Fatty acids (saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated)
The name fatty acids is commonly used to indicate those organic acids that are found in the composition of lipids, that is, in animal and vegetable oils and fats, both in the free form and in the form of esters with glycerol (e.g. in triglycerides), or they are esterified with “fatty” alcohols, that is, long chain alcohols, to form waxes. Fatty acids are carboxylic acids (formula R-COOH) which have a long carbon chain (R), unlike common organic acids such as acetic acid and propionic acid, which have 2 or 3 carbon atoms in total, respectively. Fatty acids are defined as saturatedif they do not have double carbon-carbon bonds, (called “unsaturations”), they are defined mono-unsaturated if they have only one, they are defined mono-unsaturatedpoly-unsaturated if they have two or more double bonds (see figure). The term omega-3 (ω-3) or omega-6 (ω-3), refers to the position of the first double bond starting from the bottom of the chain of carbon atoms: if the first double bond is encountered after 3 carbon atoms the fatty acid is classified as omega-3 , if after six carbon atoms omega-6 , as shown in the figure. The most common saturated fatty acids are palmitic acid (16 carbon atoms and no double bond, C16: 0) and stearic acid (18 carbon atoms, 18: 0), the most common mono-unsaturated is the oleic acid, typical of olive oil (18 carbon atoms and 1 double bond in position 9, C18: 1; ω-9), while the most common poly-unsaturated are linoleic acid and linolenic acid, progenitors respectively omega-6 and omega-3 (see figure).
Terpenes and terpenoids
Terpenes or terpenoids are a large family of natural molecules, typically containing 10 to 30 carbon atoms, which are biosynthesized from a common “brick”, isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP), containing 5 carbon atoms (see figure). The discovery that the repetitive brick consists of 5 carbon atoms is relatively recent, while it was once assumed that the entire family was created by repeating a brick of 10 carbon atoms, which was called “terpene”. Therefore, the molecules with 10 carbon atoms (such as limonene, see figure) were called mono-terpenes, i.e. composed of a single brick, diterpenes those with 20 carbon atoms (e.g. the cafestol that gives the aroma to the coffee), triterpenes those with 30 carbon atoms (e.g. beta-carotene). Since molecules made from 15 carbon atoms were also found (such as bisabolol), it was thought they contained a terpene and a half, and were called sesquiterpenes (from the Latin semis = half + atque = and). Today it is known that the repetitive unit is composed of 5 carbon atoms, therefore it is easy to understand how mono-terpenes contain two (see figure), sesquiterpenes three, diterpenes four, triterpenes six.